My discovery of Passage d’Enfer is the result of one of the few times I have mustered the courage to ask a complete stranger what fragrance they were wearing. Two bottles later, it is still my favourite L’Artisan fragrance and one of my favourite incense notes. Created in 1999 by perfumer Olivia Giacobetti, the name translates from French as, “gateway to hell”. The title loses some of its horrific sentiment once you learn it was taken from the street near the company’s Parisian offices. This is a classic Giacobetti scent. Those looking for resinous incense dug up from the depths of the earth’s crust will need to look elsewhere. Like most Giacobetti creations, this incense is airy and light. It is a contemplative scent with illusive molecules I find myself grasping to find as notes slip in and out of consciousness; lily blooms, white musks, cedar chips and amber. My fascination lies with Giacobetti’s ability to merge these two contrasts seamlessly; earthy wood and incense with weightless florals and musk.
Described by L’Artisan Parfumeur in three notes: frankincense, white lily and musk, Passage d’Enfer begins with an absence of classic top notes such as bergamot or herbal greens. The first note is neon floral. Classified as white lily, it is a masterful flower, created from natural and synthetic brush strokes. The incense is paired with a sterile note, reminiscent of freshly opened gauze from a first aid kit. This sterile plastic note gives Passage d’Enfer its weightlessness. Cedar, wood and incense bring the fragrance back towards more ‘natural’ territory. It is an art of paradox that is well worth exploring next time you find yourself at an L’Artisan Parfumeur boutique.
Passage d’Enfer is genial and suited to a young man with an interest in niche fragrance. He is naturally confident and does not rely on the faux securities offered by many of today’s hyper masculine scents.
IUNX L’Ether, IUNX Eau Sento, Comme des Garcons Zagorsk, Emporio Armani White For Him.
Perfumer: Olivia Giacobetti (Iskia)
Bottle designer: Federico Restrepo
Release date: 1999
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Dry Woods